Airbnb Plans To Spread Its Wings Into ‘Flights’

by Michele McDonald
Airbnb Plans To Spread Its Wings Into ‘Flights’

CEO Brian Chesky unveiled Airbnb Trips at the company's annual conference. Photo: Airbnb 

The hotel industry has long cast a wary eye on Airbnb. And it’s no wonder: In just eight years, Airbnb, one of the pioneers of the so-called sharing economy, has become the second-largest boutique hospitality brand in the world. It accomplished that feat without ever owning, operating or franchising a hotel.

Now the company is spreading its wings, venturing into local tours and activities, flights and beyond.

At Airbnb’s annual conference, chief executive officer Brian Chesky said the company wants to be involved “in every aspect of the trip.”

In his keynote address, he described trip planning as an arduous research project that can end up consuming as much time as the trip itself.

Airbnb is on a mission to make planning easier. It has structured its activities under an umbrella that it calls “Trips,” which currently comprises Experiences, a sort of tours and activities offering on steroids; Places, which includes Insider Guidebooks, Meet Ups and Audio Walks; and Homes, representing the more than 3 million accommodations available for booking.

A fourth category, Flights and Services, will be added in the future.

Neither Chesky nor Airbnb offered many details about the category, but some hints were dropped in a statement announcing the Trips structure.

“Booking travel today can be complicated and stressful. With Trips, Airbnb aims to make it easy with one app to book most of your travel needs,” the statement said. “Trip Itinerary is a new feature that brings together everything the traveler needs to know into one simple timeline, with the ability to easily book and add Experiences or things to do.”

Over time, Airbnb said, this capability will evolve. Its vision is “to ultimately cater for every aspect of a trip.”

Meanwhile, Airbnb is showcasing its visually striking Experiences category, which aims to immerse travelers into local communities and cultures. Unlike traditional tours and activities aggregators, Experiences skips the glass-bottom boat rides and brewery tours in favor of truffle hunting excursions, burlesque dance lessons, driving classic cars or creating Korean embroidery.

Airbnb’s conference overlapped with The PhoCusWright Conference—an accident, according to Chip Conley, head of global hospitality and strategy for Airbnb.

Conley dropped by the PhoCusWright event for a previously scheduled on-stage interview and dropped another juicy hint about his company’s aspirations: “We want to become the superbrand of travel,” he said.

Asked how far Airbnb would go to achieve that goal—would it, for example, compete with big bus tour companies?—Conley said, “The travel world is big enough for us and the big bus tour company.”

Does that mean Airbnb might operate big bus tours?

“No,” Conley said. He paused, and added, “Not yet.”

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